Sunday 16 January 2011

Do you know God? (1 John 2:3-6)

You are walking down the street and someone with a microphone walks up to you and asks, “Do you know God?” What would you say?

I think most of us would hesitate to answer. Even if you’re a Christian, I think you might be more confident answering questions like “Do you go to church?” or “Do you believe in God?”

Some hesitate because they are embarrassed. Doesn’t it sound arrogant to claim that you know God? After all, doesn’t the bible itself say that God is invisible? (1 John 4:12, Colossians 1:15, Romans 1:20) Who can really be sure?

Yet the bible does want us to be sure.

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
1 John 2:3-6

John says you know God if you know and obey his word. “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.” Still, the comparison he makes is not between a Christian and a non-Christian but between two people who both claim to know God. And John says one of them is a liar. He is the person who does not obey God’s command.

Specifically this is the command to love one another (2:10, echoing Jesus’ words to his disciples in John 15:9-17). What is remarkable about the letter of 1 John is how this command to Christians to love one another is repeated again and again, yet not once is it framed in terms of doing good or being moral. Instead, John says the one who loves his brother in living in truth and the one who hates his brother is living a lie.

You don’t need to be a Christian to know the importance of showing love to the people around you. Both Christians and non-Christians display sacrificial love every day – a mother’s love for her child, the soldier’s love for his country by laying down his life on the battlefield. Yet such love is understood as either a social, emotional or moral response. Some might even say it is a basic human quality to be found in each one of us to some degree or other.

Yet here, the New Testament document of 1 John speaks candidly and abundantly about love – love for man and love for God – but John never ever calls it a mere human emotion. Instead, John defines the love of a true believer as a rational, decisive, response to the truth of the gospel. Here, love is commanded. Here, the object of love is specific – love for God and not love for the world – the two are mutually exclusive. Here, love is a test of the Christian’s integrity – Is he is she really a Christian?

Or in other words, does he or she really know God?

In part, John writes this letter to combat the rising threat of false teachers. They were denying that Jesus was the Christ (2:22) and were trying to lead the church astray (2:26).

But John’s main purpose is to reassure us as Christians. He writes these words near the end of his letter.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
1 John 5:13

These are such encouraging words! He is writing to Christians (“you who believe in the name of the Son of God”) to assure them that they have been saved (“so that you may know that you have eternal life”). Or putting it another way: John is reminding those who are saved that they have been saved.

Which means: there are Christians who are not sure of their salvation. Which means: Christians will sometimes struggle with their own faith. There will be times of difficulty, depression and doubt. And John writes these words to those who have been saved so that they know they have been saved and so that they can be sure of their salvation.

The key word in this verse is “know”. “So that you may know that you have eternal life”. In response to the question, “Do you know God?” The bible wants us as Christians to be able to answer confidently, “Yes!”

Yet the bible anticipates times when we will be unsure. In fact, the bible expects it. That is why it keeps bringing us back again and again to the same truth of the gospel – to Jesus on the cross and his effective work of redeeming sinners through his death and resurrection. This is the supreme display of God’s love for us. The cross is the one foundation of all Christian assurance.

But it is also the basis of God’s command for believers to love one another. The command to love is given us for God’s glory – as a display of his goodness and grace. But the main argument in 1 John is that this command to love another is given us for our good. It is for our assurance.

So much so: that when our conscience condemns us or when we struggle in prayer, John will remind us of the importance of both trusting in Jesus and loving one another (1 John 3:23). To be clear, our love does not save us, God’s love does. Christians trust in the one foundational truth that Jesus has saved us. But we must also be able to see this truth working out in our lives through obedience. God’s love for us in Jesus produces the fruit of love in the believer. It means that the authentic Christian life is one marked by growing obedience to God’s word.

Conversely, the person who claims to know God, yet lives in disobedience to his will is foolishly living a lie. John warns us against deceiving ourselves.

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
1 John 2:4

Do you know God? Maybe for you, the humble – if not, honest answer is No. If so, the bible’s simple and clear answer to you is: know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. That’s how you come to know God. Through Jesus, God provides a way for sinful men and women to know him as their heavenly Father, by pouring out the punishment for their sins upon Jesus on the cross.

Yet some might answer, “Yes, I think I’m sure. I wish could be more certain, though. And I want to know God better.” To you, John reminds you of the same truth of the gospel – of the death of Jesus on your behalf securing your status as sons of God. But he also wants to draw your attention to the display of God’s grace working in your life moulding you to become more and more like Jesus – in your walk of obedience before God and in your love for other believers.

But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
1 John 2:3-6

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
1 John 4:7-12

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